The smell, a mixture of hides and skins and chemicals welcomes you at a distance. As you get closer, a cacophony of sounds hits your ears. It becomes almost unbearable as you enter the company housing the main shoe-making factory. However, this is the environment in which Barisheba Hakizayezu, makes millions of francs from Made-in-Rwanda shoes.
When the founder and managing director of TMCS Shoe Company Limited in Nyagatare, Eastern Province, meets us outside the factory he seems unaware of the near deafening sounds or the putrid smell that hangs over the area. “Are you the people from Kigali?” he asked referring to a call a colleague and I made before we travelled to Nyagatare so we can tell his story.
“Welcome to my simple shoe factory.” Do not be deceived though because his is a mega facility. In front of the facility, customers are lining up to be served. For Hakizayezu this represents a dream come true. He says he dreamt of becoming a major shoe manufacturer 15 years ago.
“However, it has taken hard work, determination, and patience to turn this dream into reality.”
The entrepreneur, a former cobbler, now earns millions from shoe and handicraft making. He says he produces over 50 pairs of new leather shoes of all types and sizes per day. As it is said, a dream does not become reality by magic, but rather through determination and hard work.
How he started
Hakizayezu does not know how to read and write. He says he relies on his daughter, staff and well-wishers to interpret and explain to him documents concerning the business. He says, as an orphan, he never had a chance to go to school and, therefore, relied on ‘natural wisdom’ to juggle through life.
Born in Nyagatare, he grew up and spent many years on the streets of Nyamirambo, a Kigali suburb.
He says he left Nyagatare in 2005 to look for opportunities in the city and improve his livelihood. But jobs were had to come by for illiterates like him.
“Everywhere I went, the first question they asked was whether I knew how to read and write,” says the father of four.
As a result, he was forced to walk around the streets cleaning people’s shoes to earn a living “until a Good Samaritan took me up to teach me how to mend shoes. His benefactor was also from Nyagatare.
“That’s how my journey in the shoes business began,” Hakizayezu says.
The 42-year-old says his skills as a cobbler and shoeshine boy were further sharpened for the three years he spent with the Good Samaritan in Nyamirambo.
“By the end of three years, I had saved up to Rwf70,000, which I used to start a shoe repair business in Nyagatare that dealt in shoe shining and repair services,” he recollects.
In 2012, he was among the 800 residents who joined government’s ‘Hanga Umurimo’ programme that promoted self-employment.
After attaining further training in the trade, he was ready to expand his business.
This required him to invest in more capital. When he applied for loans in banks to expand his enterprise, he was always denied credit.
“I approached several banks, but was denied credit because I lacked collateral,” he says, adding that all he had was skills and a business worth Rwf360,000. His attempt to sell his business proposal to financial institutions did not bear fruit either.
“I had a business proposal worth Rwf12 million, but none of the banks believed in my idea because I lacked collateral. I had to close my bank account with one of my banks because there was no reason for me to patronise a bank that was not willing to support me,” he says.
BDF to the rescue
After several attempts without success, Hakizayezu was able to convince the Business Development Fund (BDF) to guarantee his loan so he could secure credit from Bank of Kigali.
“With BDF as my guarantor, I was able to secure Rwf5 million from Bank of Kigali, which I used to buy equipment to expand my businesses and improve on the production capacity,” he explains.
He says he owes part of his success to BDF because it was the only institution that believed in his dream. He says the fund has uplifted many Rwandans from poverty, creating millions of jobs.
BDF’s interventions are in part geared at helping the country achieve its target of creating 200,000 off-farm jobs on an annual basis.
Hakizayezu says shortage and high cost of raw materials are the major challenges the factory faces, adding that they push up the final product prices. He says importing the raw materials increases costs and creates delays. “Secondly, people’s mentality of not wanting to buy locally-made products discourages local production as buyers still prefer imported goods which are also often cheaper,” Hakizayezu says.
He is now counting on Made-in-Rwanda campaign for his enterprise to flourish. “We are optimistic the campaign will change people’s mindset toward locally-produced goods, as well as encourage innovation and market Rwanda as a brand,” he says.
He says the fact that commercial banks often lend to already thriving businesses leaves start-ups with no alternatives forcing them to close shop. This, he adds, is not sustainable and hurts the economy in the long-run. He adds those that are ‘lucky’ to get loans are struggling under the weight of high interest rates. He also challenges banks to work with young entrepreneurs to help develop the country.
From Rwf70,000, Hakizayezu has grown his enterprise into a multimillion business. He operates a training centre where school dropouts acquire skills. He has bought a commercial building and a farm in the outskirts of Nyagatare town from the proceeds of the business. The entrepreneur plans to take his business to the next level and produce for export market. “The plan will be implemented once I get more credit,” he says. He also wants to expand his training programme and open more centres across the country.
What people say about Hakizayezu
Vedaste Musoni, a retailer shop owner in Nyagatare, says Hakizayezu is a determined and hard working man. “He is always willing to help the youth and equip them with the skills required to succeed in life.” Ivan Twagiraishema, a resident of Nyagatare and Hakizayezu’s customer, says the shoe maker is an inspiration the to youth. “He is always willing to share his story to inspire the youth in Nyagatare,” he said.